From an early age, in many (if not all) cultures, humans are taught the importance of sharing resources with friends and family members. Whether it be a toy, food item or the couch, this practice can help to build trusting, healthy relationships. In a school cafeteria this looks a little different and especially in a throwaway society, such as ours here in the U.S., it can be more difficult to teach and monitor. Our school district provides free and reduced lunches to the majority of students. Athens-Clarke county is in the top 10 counties, in the country, for high poverty rate (for metropolitan areas of over 100,000 residents) and so you can imagine that there is a high rate of food insecurity within the school district.
Although there is a balanced meal available, each day at lunch, there will be cases where students do not wish to consume all that they take from the lunch line. Their frozen peach cups, bag of baby carrots or even ranch packets can often be left untouched and often are thrown to the trash bins. Clarke Middle School uses a food collection system during all three lunch periods that helps to reduce this waste being created in the cafeteria. Thanks to the previous VISTA, Wick Prichard, there are plastic bowls placed on each eating table where students can place unwanted and uneaten items that will then be collected by myself and student volunteers and delivered to our Food and Consumer Sciences teacher, Hope Zimmerman, who uses the items in cooking labs with her classes.
This system has had a great deal of impact. It saves the district money on supplies used by the FCS classes in cooking demonstrations, saves on waste costs and it provides an extra milk or piece of fruit to students, during the lunch period, who may not be satisfied by what is allotted to them by the cafeteria staff. In my mind this is how we fight poverty by fighting hunger. This program has made such an impact that I was informed by a teacher at Clarke Middle School that, on an outdoor field trip, students placed unwanted bags of chips, hotdogs and fruit, etc. in the center of their picnic tables to be collected. We may live in a society where it’s easy to cast aside undesired items but it is also apparent that the desire to share and save is a growing trend and I am grateful to be a part of such a movement in a middle school setting.